#GrowWildStories: 'It's about people, not results'

Dementia group gardeners
Kathie, Church Warden for St. Edwards in Cardiff, tells us how Grow Wild helped her to evolve and grow her dementia support group over the summer of 2020.

“I first became involved with Grow Wild several years ago. A friend of mine passed on one of your emails because she had received your seed kits in the past.  She knew we were trying to set up a garden therapy group for members of our Forget-me-not café, a group which supports local people who are suffering primarily from dementia and social isolation. She showed me how to apply to receive the kit, and we were lucky enough to receive one!

We scattered the contents at the right time in our church grounds. We thought this would get the garden started, but unfortunately, nothing happened! Nothing happened at all. So, we thought, “well, never mind, you know - seeds take a while.” But then we researched it, using the resources on the Grow Wild website. We realised that we hadn’t prepared the ground properly! This was the first learning step in our wildflower journey. I receive the Grow Wild emails and newsletters, and they regularly feature examples of what other groups have found to be successful. So, by following other peoples’ escapades, the group started to learn what would and wouldn’t work. It's about living, learning and trying things out!

Now, we have several different areas within the garden. There’s a “Grow Wild” place around the back - a mini-environment for wildlife. We've also created a habitat for hedgehogs - the local children want to leave food for the ones they have spotted in the church grounds. The next phase of the project is to create a bigger wildflower patch, and we’re planning to stick pictures of all the butterflies and things on to the railings, so local children can come and see, and learn. The aim is to have ‘manageable chaos’, mindful all the time of creating wildlife corridors and making sure it's not all totally wild, as we’ve got the building to consider as well as children running around.

Dementia group garden

Most of our group used to be made up of people with Dementia, Alzheimer's or those recovering from strokes. We also supported people who were lonely or having mental health issues which isolated them from their family or society. Every Tuesday, up to 40 people were coming to garden with us, all from the local community. But more recently, we’ve had all sorts of people come to enjoy the garden: families with young children, young lads looking for some voluntary work to do since they had more time on their hands, and retired folks looking to give something back to the community.

Because we were getting so much interest, I applied for a grant from the council, who gave us £1000, which is brilliant. With the funding, we were able to buy some gardening tools and equipment and clear out a cellar to store it all.

We have a laugh about the gardening – you have to, with Dementia! You plant something, but you might not remember what goes in, or you might plant it upside down! We all have a sense of humour about it. It’s not about getting perfect results- it’s more about the process, and that can be so therapeutic. It’s about people, not results.

“It’s not about getting perfect results - it’s more about the process, and that can be so therapeutic. It’s about people, not results.”

The local community are really pleased with the garden. Although the area is made up of big houses, most of these are divided into flats and the outside space is often decked or concreted over. They don't have the opportunity to feel the grass between their toes. The children love it, too: they can pick the daisies and see when the snow drops come up.

Over lockdown, I’ve been really impressed with how so many people have adapted to our weekly group meetings online. We carry on meeting on the Tuesday afternoon as usual, and I've been able to show the participants some of the wildflowers growing in my garden, which are still going strong. I made some “bee bombs” full of UK native bee-friendly seeds, following the advice on your website. We left them out for our group members to collect during their daily exercise, and others we were able to put them in the church grounds. We’ve had some good results!

Other than that, it’s been great that the group has still had the chance to meet up and still have that social contact which has been so important during lockdown. We sometimes have a quiz, little competitions, and sometimes we all wear a funny hat! We also encouraged the group to take pictures of their gardens or pretty pictures of anything that they found during their daily exercise and share it with the rest of us. It’s been a real lifeline – but we’re really looking forward to getting back in the garden when it’s safe to do so.”

To read more about Kathie’s horticulture group, visit the Forget-me-not website. Or, to find inspiration for how to bring wildflowers to your garden, check out our online resources.